Well, not Thomas himself, but his home, Monticello, and his legacy. On my 68th birthday, Linda and granddaughters Dylan and Carson hopped into Robin’s (bigger) car and we zoomed 110 miles southwest, past Charlottesville, and up the hill to his historic estate. Ate some lunch, watched a short film on Jefferson’s life, and hopped a shuttle to the top of the hill. Wandered along the”street” that held many of the small industries that Jefferson fostered — he was a big believer in self-sufficiency. At 1:15 enjoyed a superb tour of the mansion, led by a very able guide. After the tour, we ambled through the basement of the mansion, past storerooms, privies, and more.
Non-American readers likely know that Jefferson was the third President of the United States. On his headstone, which we saw after the house tour, were the three accomplishments he wanted inscribed (and not a word more, he ordered): “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & father of the University of Virginia.” Nothing about his other important roles and accomplishments, not least U.S. president.
Mr. Jefferson was a complex man. He wrote “all men are created equal,” yet owned enslaved people his whole life. We could dismiss him for that, but to do so would be to simplify complexity. He inspired countless people worldwide, and his ideas still shine a light on the humane ideal of freedom, and resonate in places like Hong Kong, Iran, and many others. And in a time of intolerance of those of other faiths, the second part on his gravestone resonates — I suspect Jefferson’s desire to lift that up really was proxy for the other freedoms in which he believed so ardently. And throughout the visit we were reminded of his commitment to education and insatiable curiosity.
He strongly believed that an educated populace was the foundation of a vigorous democracy. How far is that from today’s fake news, disregard for science, and lack of basic literacy (like reading a credible newspaper every day) among so many U.S. adults?
We Americans, at least those of us of good will, continue to work to – as it says in the preamble to our Constitution – “form a more perfect union.” Mr. Jefferson motivated the four of us. I am proud of my nation, and (not “but”) acutely aware of our failings.
We drove home just before and after sunset, a lovely day. And a reminder that we need to do more exploring in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a place rich in history and varied natural landscapes.
Postscript: the day after our visit, Robin, Dylan, and Carson ran in a Thanksgiving-morning run, the latter shown here with the version of Mr. Jefferson found at the Washington Nationals ballpark: